Walking and biking received substantial floor time at the first debate between the candidates vying to become mayor of Stamford, Connecticut. The debate, held on October 10 at UConn Stamford’s Gen Re Auditorium, was sponsored by AARP Connecticut and included Republican Michael Fedele, Democrat David Martin, and unaffiliated candidates Kathleen Murphy and John Zito.
Candidates fielded a number of questions, including this one: “Do you believe Stamford should be doing more to make city streets more accommodating for walking and biking? What planning and funding do you think is needed to make such improvements? Furthermore, would you support the implementation of complete streets legislation?”
Local livable streets advocates have successfully raised the profile of walking and biking as an issue in Stamford politics, and recognizing that cyclists vote, candidates are making their presence known at local cycling events. The day after the debate, Martin rode in the “Bike Stamford” group ride, and Fedele spoke with participants before the ride.
UConn’s recording of the debate is available here, and the candidates’ full responses to questions about biking and walking can be found after the jump.
(Transcript was compiled verbatim by Tri-State Transportation Campaign and covers the portion of the UConn debate video from 31:22 to 39:30. Two segments have been removed for space reasons; both are noted in brackets.)
DEEPIKA SIVAKUMAR (debate panelist): Do you believe Stamford should be doing more to make city streets more accommodating for walking and biking? What planning and funding do you think is needed to make such improvements? Furthermore, would you support the implementation of complete streets legislation?
KATHLEEN MURPHY: I think to make the streets more, I guess, safe, for walking and biking, the — you’ve got a lot of congestion. And I responded to this in the newspaper as well. It’s changing the — Putting bikes, and even the bike lanes that we have, quite frankly I drive every day through the SUT [Stamford Urban Transitway] and the — it’s very difficult. Actually more people are walking and they took a sidewalk away. So I think the bike lanes, and what I’ve seen in New York with narrow streets and parking along both sides of the streets, no matter if they put the car away from the curb and the bike lane within, it just seems that we’ve got so much congestion that making it bike friendly is really a problem. Cars and bikes don’t always mix. I think in terms of along Mill River and where you’ve got some wider roads we can do some more.
Again, it comes down to financing it; I don’t believe that we have a lot of discretionary funds. I mean I think the city, quite frankly, is broke. And I think what we need to do is get our financial house in order and really prioritize how we spend our monies and bike lanes would probably not be on my — high up on the list. And again it’s not because I don’t like bikers. I would like to ride a bike and I would love to be in an environment. But I don’t think — and we don’t really — we have a lot of speeding going on and traffic calming has to be done to make sure that the streets and sidewalks are safe, too for the people who are riding and biking. So we’ve got a long way to go, I think, in terms of really making this a bike friendly city. Thank you.
MICHAEL FEDELE: Yes, yes, and yes. We’re talking on bike lanes as if you can ride — if the road is approved for a bike lane, there are standards for it — you’re talking about putting some paint down. Putting some paint down. And identifying to the drivers, as you identify to drivers there’s a crosswalk, that you have to slow down, there are people, that there could potentially be a biker. If you look at accidents for bicyclists, it’s not because of a bike lane, it’s because people don’t know there’s a bicyclist on the road because it’s not indicated. So where appropriate, I would make sure that any planning of any new street, or any redo of an existing street would be considered for a bike lane. Listen, we put — we allow bicycles on our buses; we allow bicycles on our trains. So what happens when they get off these things, put them on their backs? Of course not. So I think bike lanes – we need to get into the 21st century, as many cities have done, and create that as an intermodal piece.
With respect to sidewalks, in a Fedele administration, we’re going to do an inventory of sidewalks in the city. We’re going to look at the ones that need to be fixed so seniors and young people and folks like me don’t fall and trip on them. We’re going to look at places where we probably should put new sidewalks. We’re going to look at places where we need to expand on sidewalks. And yes, we do have limited resources. But we’re going to have a schedule. One of the things we don’t do very well is plan things out. We’re going to have a schedule so that you know, in your neighborhood, if your sidewalk is busted, next year it’s up for a redo. Maybe this year; maybe two years. I think it’s important to do the planning. So, I think safe sidewalks for our citizens, and bike lanes where appropriate, are a good idea. Thank you for that question.
JOHN ZITO: [Conversation between Zito, Fedele, and Martin about Fedele and Martin's bike rides with Stamford bike advocate Mike Norris.]
Yes. Bike lane? I see a yes. But you have to understand now, our roads are in poor shape right now. When salt — when the winter comes, salt hits. If you have a crack, salt gets underneath it, gets cold, it rises the blacktop. Plow comes along; pop goes the weasel. Then we have a pothole. We go out, we cold patch it. We don’t put the tack down. When it rains, we go over it with our cars; it pops back up again. I know we’re all a little bent out of shape on this. As mayor of Stamford, in the field, I’ll be out helping everybody. I’d like to hire someone for a pothole division – pothole division or a sidewalk division. Contact this person – OK, Houston Terrace, you have a pothole. Main Street, you have a pothole. We need someone to correspond in, with the potholes, to write them down.
Sidewalks? There’s a lot of sidewalks that need to be done. But our municipality is manpowered down. We have 27 guys, 365 miles of road. Twenty-seven guys. Twenty years ago, we had 200, 300 guys. We can take care of that. I’d like to bring the work into Stamford. Stamford masons, let’s give them a price and a bid on the job and get them to repair our sidewalks and also put a list out. I see the clock ticking down over here so any other questions I can answer on that, I can answer that after the show. Thank you.
DAVID MARTIN: [More conversation with Zito and Fedele about the Mike Norris bike ride and the October 11 "Bike Stamford" ride.]
I’m in fact also a member of People-Friendly Stamford. And that’s their goal. To make our streets more bicycle friendly, more pedestrian friendly.
There is in fact already efforts underway with studies on Long Ridge and High Ridge and trying to figure how we can change those roads to make those bicycle-friendly. Obviously, some of our roads are not really conducive to this, but we need to change that, and you can’t get it changed if you don’t get started. One of the things we’re going to have to do is we’re going to have to have some serious transportation planner. And I plan to bring back a transportation planner, to help work on the many projects that we have in transportation, including the idea of bringing bicycles and making streets more friendly. And I don’t think I’m going to have 50 meetings with the operations department, the engineering department. It’s going to be as simple as this: I’m going to get a bike. And when I’m going to the South End or the downtown or the east side or west side, I’m going to ride my bike — at some risk to the health of the mayor of Stamford, given the way our streets are right now — but that’s what I’m going to do and I think it’s going to send a message that’s going to work a lot better than 55 meetings to say that we’re going to plan this.
How much does that transportation planner cost? Because I think about this. It’s about 50 cents a person per year in the city of Stamford. We need to address this and while we’re at it, we need to address the timing of lights. It’s not the biggest problem in the world, but I’m tired of sitting on Bedford Street or Summer Street or Washington Blvd. and seeing green all around except that I’m stuck behind a red light that’s out of sync. It’s about time we changed that. So basically, we have to focus on transportation. To improve the traffic flow, to improve the bicycle-friendly, to make it pedestrian-friendly so you can cross the street that’s eight lanes wide, and I’m going to do it. Thank you.